Durham residents turned out at a city council work session to share their opinions about a proposed resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza Thursday afternoon.
In addition to a bilateral cease-fire, the resolution proposed by council member Chelsea Cook calls for the Biden administration to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza and work toward a long-term solution for both Palestinians and Israelis. Cook’s resolution advocates for the release of “all people unjustly held in the region,” including Israeli hostages who remain in Gaza.
Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams praised residents’ engagement after hearing short comments from 36 community members who spoke to the council about the resolution.
“When I look out in the audience, I see people who have very different perspectives sitting amongst one another,” Williams said. “What we’re experiencing in real time is how we deliberate very difficult conversations and ideals in this country.”
Many of the 25 pro-Palestinian residents who spoke to the council felt that the proposed resolution’s verbiage was not strong enough and that omitting words such as “genocide” and not calling for a permanent cease-fire diminished the large-scale destruction and mounting death toll in Gaza. In response, UE 150 and other local organizations authored a draft resolution that they urged the council to adopt instead.
“If we cannot call it a genocide, this resolution loses significant power and depth,” Durham resident Damon Williams told the council. “We must amend the resolution so that it will adamantly call for the end of U.S. military aid to Israel because that is what Durham demands in one strong, loving and powerful voice.”
On the other hand, pro-Israel opponents of the resolution said that they felt that the council was being pressured by antisemites and that the resolution neglected to recognize Hamas’ role in the Oct. 7 attacks.
“The proposed resolution demonstrates appalling ignorance as it parrots Hamas’ talking points. We ask faith leaders and the city council to show a moral backbone,” said Durham resident Amy Rosenthal, one of the 11 pro-Israel speakers at the event.
Pro-Israel residents also worried that passing the cease-fire resolution would lead to a rise in antisemitism and that passing a resolution was unnecessary.
Cease-fire opponents said that Durham had no business in international affairs.
“Our city council is plagued with gun violence, a major crisis in our public schools, an understaffed police department, yet Council considers the request of Hamas supporters,” Durham resident Deborah Friedman said.
However, others calling for a cease-fire countered that Durham is implicated because residents’ tax dollars contribute to military aid sent to Israel and the community has strong support for a cease-fire.
“The idea that an international statement distracts us from local issues is a false binary,” said Durham resident Emily Wilkes.
Wilkes drew a parallel between the displacement of Palestinians and the displacement of Durham residents as a result of gentrification. She told the council that “voting yes on this resolution is a vote for our trust in the democratic process and shows us that you’re willing to stand against displacement, whether across the world or right here in Durham.”
Pro-Palestinian supporters also expressed hope that passing the resolution would be a commitment to furthering dialogue and education in Durham about the Israel-Hamas war.
“This resolution can’t be the end of this conversation, but rather a commitment to continued solidarity and justice,” said Durham resident Meredith Wilkinson.
The Durham City Council’s proposed cease-fire resolution is not the first of its kind. In 2018, the council voted to ban Durham police from participating in training exchanges with the Israel Defense Forces. Many at Thursday’s work session referenced this decision as a precedent for passing a cease-fire resolution.
The council plans to vote on the cease-fire resolution at their meeting Feb. 19.
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Claire Cranford is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.